Saturday, November 23, 2013

Media watchdogs, Look into thyself!

A lot of opinions, articles, blogposts and stories are doing rounds after the King of Sting (Tarun Tejpal) has been exposed for sexual assault on his colleague. This post on the Hoot by Kalpana Sharma rightly says it is not only about Tehelka, but also puts all the media organisations in the spotlight.

Ms Sharma says:  "Tehelka is not an exception in its cavalier approach towards the crime of sexual harassment. We in the media point our fingers at every conceivable institution in this country and think it well within our rights to question and expose their shortcomings. Yet, how many media houses have complied with the Sexual Harassment Act and set up inquiry committees as required by this law? If a survey were to be conducted today, it is more than likely that less than a handful would have done so."

Case 1: Now that there's so much talk about setting up women's safety cells in media organisations too, I have always wondered about why there wasn't one in the first place ever since the guidelines came into existence. This takes me to another point where, I as a junior, (3 years of journalistic experience), did not know who to approach even if I had such questions pop up in my mind. The HRs come into picture (mostly) only when they recruit you or when you quit. Else, they're dormant. In media, accept it or not, there's always the senior and the junior and the bosses are not easily approachable. Almost always. The junior (until you have 5-6 years of experience, you're a JUNIOR) is looked down upon as someone who's not talented (even if you are), someone who lacks the knowledge (even if you do) and someone who has to be suppressed. Yes, the "juniors" have no voice, they cannot answer back even if they know they have been asked to do something they "dislike" and they have to bear with all the consequences. (And, yes, there are exceptions, everywhere!)

Case 2: Like in Tejpal's case, he mentioned to his colleague in the elevator "that was the best way to keep her at her place." These coercive tactics of controlling the "juniors" stem out of insecurity and the urge to dominate, often leading to harassment which is mostly overlooked. Being a "junior" in the media, I've had several instances of going through situations I've not liked working in. I've had some of my colleagues lech at me at umpteen occasions and had some stare at my boobs directly even while I observed them do that. (Even on occasions when my upper body was covered with a stole). And, as a reporter, I've had people grope me, stare at my cleavage shamelessly as if it was their right. Well, being a journalist myself, I don't say this profession is safe but on several occasions I've put my Karate to use to protect myself. I've had a lot of people tell me that I'm safe because of the power of PRESS. But, my parents are equally worried about my safety as every other girl's parents and I'm no exception to any pervert on the road.

Case 3: Let me make one thing clear, media is no different when it comes to women's safety or people's thinking (journalists are seen as people who are open-minded. Most are not, only few are). There are people who scan every inch of a girl's body and unnecessarily comment, though they come out to others as open-minded people. And, then there are people, who being part of editorial teams, come out with preposterous suggestions of having a separate bureau for women and one for men in a profession that screams for equality. Well Mr-sucker-with-the-ridiculous-suggestion, does a separate bureau for women guarantee women's safety?

Case 4: From my personal experiences, I have come across lecherous "father-like figures" and I bet there are a lot more girls/women falling prey to these predators in the garb of nice, friendly and open-minded journalists. And, for "juniors", if it is their bosses (like Tejpal), they know their job is at stake. So, a lot more pressure mounts for one to take all the crap and go on with your job. Unfortunately, most media houses do not have women's safety cells. Does this remind us that the power in large media houses still wrests in the hands of men (who still want to dominate)?

Case 5: Some media houses do have women bosses and there is this feeling of safety for other women in having a woman boss. But, don't these women bosses too go through or have gone through some sort of harassment?

Case 6: Recently, I've seen some of the senior women journalists campaign for the upcoming press club elections. I have been wanting to ask them, instead of asking people to support their candidature, wouldn't it have been better for them to come to every woman and tell they'd probably take a step in establishing a women's safety cell at every media house in the state, in the wake of Tejpal's expose?

So, as media organisations that point fingers at every other institution, as watchdogs and as the fourth estate of this country, isn't it high time we stop doing all the talk and see some action at our workplaces? Time for self-introspection. "Look into thyself, first?".


NOTE: The post is a personal opinion. It has nothing to do with the organisation I work for. This is a result of my experiences ever since I began my career as a freelance journalist and then got into mainstream journalism.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Of assumptions and assault

A satire depicting the causes of rapes in India
Photo Credit: Abhinav Bhatt

This post is a result of a series of sexist comments and an assault, all on a single day.

Since it is Karthika Pournami today (a Hindu, Jain and Sikh holy festival, celebrated on the full moon day or the fifteenth lunar day of November), one of my colleagues expected me to perform pooja at home. (Yes, I work on a Sunday too). Well, assumptions are fine. But, what followed was irksome. "Because you are a girl, you are supposed to do it," he said. Further, "You will get a good husband if you do it. Now, you don't stand a chance." Though his lines don't mean anything to me, they sure point to the way most (not all) men look at or think about women.
The second case was even more baffling. Walking to have dinner at the nearest eatery at around 8.30 pm, I encountered this man who slowed down his bike and called out to me loudly "darling.....daarlingg...". I ignored or rather chose not to look at him. (That's how Indian women generally pretend, to avoid such circumstances). He then brought his bike almost to a halt and grabbed my hand (before I could even realise it). I was shocked but at the same time, grabbed his hand with mine and eventually, he fell off his bike and had scratches all over his face. Though it gave me a sadistic pleasure to see him fall, people around me didn't quite help me, except for their judgmental gaze. Those gazes were full of "what is she doing here at this time?" "Why is she out?" "Doesn't she have a home somewhere?". And, not surprisingly, all those were men and some who I knew. Hyderabad is a safe city. I've grown up here all my life and walked home at 2am too. But, this was different. Why this barbaric mindset or view about women that it is their flesh that men want? Why not have a humane side and respect her as another human being?

I do know all men aren't like this and that men have been bearing the brunt of all the negative news coming their way in the wake of rape incidents. But the fact that it took a Nirbhaya incident to wake up a lot of people, however, remains true. But, why should someone die (after being raped so brutally) in this country for one to figure out that one needs to be a human? Have we stooped that low?

We still have quotes/ captions/ banners at anti-rape protests or elsewhere (pointing at the mother): "Teach your son about consent." Why can't that be told to a father too? Do we realise that the period the mother was raised was also a patriarchal one or rather a masochist/chauvinistic one? So, the mother, in this case, would obviously inculcate what she was taught during her time. And, why do we see parenting as something connected only with the mothers? Isn't it a father's responsibility too?  (The case of a single mother/father is totally different though).

It is notions like these that still make sexist opinions prevail. Things are no different even in our daily lives. It is time we let go of such opinions and stop being a country full of hypocrites.